Changing English Language Teaching in the Global Primary Sector
Submitting InstitutionAston University
Unit of AssessmentModern Languages and Linguistics
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Education: Curriculum and Pedagogy, Specialist Studies In Education
Summary of the impact
Research in Aston University on developing effective practices in
teaching English to young learners (TEYL) has achieved the following key
- Findings from the research have informed international policy
discussions on TEYL. For example, the TESOL-Italy mission statement on
TEYL includes recommendations derived from the findings (TESOL =
Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).
- The research project led to the publication of a book of teaching
resources for primary school teachers distributed globally by the
British Council. This book is used by both primary school teachers
around the world and teacher educators in the UK.
The underpinning research was generated from a British Council ELT
(English Language Teaching) Research Awards Scheme project, entitled:
Investigating Global Practices in Teaching English to Young Learners.
The award was for £19,802 and the project ran from to January 1st
to December 31st, 2010 at Aston University. It was carried out
at Aston by Dr Sue Garton (PI and Lecturer in English, joined Aston March
2000), Dr Fiona Copland (CI and Lecturer in English, joined Aston
September 2007) and Professor Anne Burns (CI and Professor of Language
Education, joined Aston in June 2010).
In many countries around the world English is now compulsory in primary
education, affecting millions of children and teachers. However, knowledge
and understanding of policy, practice and challenges in areas such as
training, materials, and classroom conditions is at best sketchy. This
project, focusing on young learners aged 7-11, therefore aimed to:
- discover what policy/syllabus documents inform TEYL practices around
- investigate and map the major pedagogies that teachers use;
- better understand teachers' perceptions of their roles and
responsibilities, including the challenges they face;
- identify how local solutions to pedagogical issues can be effective
and how these may resonate globally;
- develop an innovative research tool for transnational research with
Two research methods were used. A survey, using opportunity sampling,
resulted in 4,446 responses from primary school teachers in over 140
countries with responses from all continents. Five case studies,
comprising interviews with teachers and classroom observations, were
carried out in Colombia, Italy, Korea, Tanzania and the UAE. Data were
analysed using a number of tools including a predictive analysis to
identify key variables that influence classroom practice (survey closed
questions), corpus analysis to classify the range of challenges teachers
face (survey open questions) and coding (interviews) to identify
Major findings (linked to publications in S3)
- The predictive analyses revealed a complex picture in which a number
of significant factors influencing practice were identified. These were
geographical location, age of learners, and teachers' level of English
- Classroom practices are influenced less by pedagogical theories
underpinning government policies and more by the materials and resources
- While teachers' practices are framed within government or
institutional policy documents and many are aware of them, the most
influential documents reported to underpin practices are the coursebook
and teachers' own lesson plans (S3.1).
- Teachers of young learners face challenges that are generally
neglected in the young learner literature. Teaching speaking, motivating
learners, dealing with large classes, mixed levels and discipline
problems were all identified by teachers as particularly challenging
- Teachers themselves are clearly important agents in developing local
solutions to the demands of teaching young learners. Observed practices
included varying the activities during a single lesson, using different
visual and aural resources, introducing meaningful local cultural
artefacts, activities that recycle language points, using strategies to
control discipline and maintain attention and motivation, and planning
for short concentration spans (S31, S3.2, S3.4).
- Previous research has focused on teachers' lack of English
proficiency. However, this research has shown a far more complex picture
in which confidence, attitude, the role of native speaker teachers and
the persistent view that achieving native speaker competence is
necessary all influence classroom practice (S3.1, S3.2, S3.4, S3.5).
References to the research
1. Garton, S., Copland, F., and Burns, A. (2011) Investigating Global
Practices in Teaching English to Young Learners: a Project Report. The
British Council. ISBN: 978-086355-667-8
This report publishes the research from which the impact derives. It
is recognised internationally in terms of originality,
significance and rigour and is a recognised point of reference
of some influence (see section 4).
3. Copland, F. (2011) Teaching young learners in a global context The
Language Teacher. 35/4. Copy available on request.
4. Copland, F., Garton, S. and Burns, A. (in press TESOL Quarterly)
Challenges in Teaching English to Young Learners: Global Perspectives and
Local Realities. Copy available on request.
5. Garton S. (2013) Unresolved issues and new challenges in teaching
English to young learners: the case of South Korea. Current Issues in
Language Planning. DOI:10.1080/14664208.2014.858657
British Council ELT Research Awards Scheme £19,802, January 1st
to December 31st, 2010 at Aston University. Dr Sue Garton (PI
and Lecturer in English), Dr Fiona Copland (CI and Lecturer in English)
and Professor Anne Burns (CI and Professor of Language Education, who
joined Aston on June 1st, 2010).
British Council ELT Research Awards Scheme £ 4,579, April 1st
to December 31st, 2011 at Aston University. Dr Sue Garton (P1
and Lecturer in English), Dr Fiona Copland (CI and Lecturer in English).
Details of the impact
This research has had significant and wide-reaching impact for a
relatively small amount of research funding (a total of £24,381 over 2
awards). It has had impact on senior policy makers, primary school
teachers, researchers and students in two main areas: language policy and
teachers' professional development.
English language teaching policy in the primary sector
The research has had impact on policy through the publication of research
findings in the research report, Investigating Global Practices in
Teaching English to Young Learners, which has been distributed
globally by the British Council and is available to download on its
website. The findings have led to invitations to the researchers to
participate in international policy debates on teaching English to young
learners. The original research report was designed, at the British
Council's request, to inform policy-makers internationally. To date, the
web-link to the report has been shared 2,611 times, including 829 emails,
698 Facebook shares and 208 tweets (see S5 .1). The report has been `right
clicked', which usually means downloaded, 329 times. The report describes
the issues surrounding the introduction of English into primary curricula
globally from the teachers' perspectives, highlighting in particular key
challenges that need to be addressed to improve English language teaching
in this sector.
The report was used to inform and influence TESOL-Italy's mission
statement on Teaching English to Young Learners presented at the annual
conference in Rome in November 2011 (see S5/2) at a time when the Italian
Ministry of Education is carrying out reforms to teacher education.
TESOL-Italy acts as an influential government consultant on language
Copland and Garton were invited by the British Council in Lebanon on
March 2nd 2012 to present the findings from the project at a
seminar on English at Primary level. The seminar was to inform and
influence the Ministry of Education in Lebanon as they embark on a
programme of educational reform of the form and content of English
teaching to young learners (S5.3). The audience included school heads,
English coordinators, University ELT department heads and Ministry
officials not only from Lebanon but also from Egypt and Jordan. It was
featured on MTV Lebanon and broadcast to 38000 people (see URL in S5.4).
It was also featured in the British Council newsletter, TalkingEnglish,
sent out to 800 English language contacts.
Copland and Garton were invited by The Guardian to respond to Minister of
Education Michael Gove's plans to teach modern foreign languages to young
learners in primary schools. Their article was published on Friday October
14th 2011 in the "Comment is Free" section and sparked an
intensive debate on The Guardian's discussion board (see URL in S5/5). Of
the 134 comments, a number demonstrated raised awareness and understanding
of the issues in teaching languages in the UK context to young learners.
Copland has recently been invited to take part in the influential ELT
Journal/Oxford University Press debate at the IATEFL conference in 2014,
where she will speak for the motion, 'This house believes that primary
ELT does more harm than good' (S 5.10)
Teacher professional development
A second grant was awarded by the British Council in 2011 to elicit
activities used by primary school teachers around the world. We contacted
all those who had responded to the original research questionnaire and
left contact details (around 2,000 teachers globally). Approximately 200
teachers sent in activities and the result was a book called Crazy
Animals and Other Activities for Teaching English to Young Learners,
edited by Copland and Garton and published by the British Council in March
2012, with 50 activities from teachers in 28 countries. The book was
launched by the British Council at the annual conference of the IATEFL in
March 2012, and is available for free as a hard copy or a digital file on
the British Council website (see S5/6). Details from the website show that
to date, there have been a gratifying 7239 `shares' of the book,
including, 3969 Facebook shares, 543 tweets and 1475 email shares. The
book has also been `right clicked' 1,711 times. A web search reveals that
the book has been shared on sites in many different countries including
Russia, Armenia and Italy. The book is now being used not only by
individual teachers, but also by teacher training centres for professional
development purposes thereby showing impact through changing teacher
Feedback from teachers using the book has been very positive. Email
comments include: I think this is a very useful almost unique book for
busy teachers — beginners as well as qualified; [the children] like the
activities very much, they help structure the lesson in a creative way;
It means a lot to me, because I know that all the activities in the book
are offered by real teachers from real classes just like me; the book
that helps me and my colleagues to have fun in the classes and better
results with the children at school.
The English Lead at the British Council Bucharest has distributed 100
copies of the book to primary school teachers and reports that it is very
much appreciated (S5/7). A leading Italian teacher trainer wrote that she
believes the book would become the best resource currently available for
primary school teachers of English.
Feedback from academics at the universities of Birmingham, Leicester,
Leeds and Warwick has also indicated that the resource is being introduced
into their programmes and modules in teaching English to young learners.
For example, the book has been used on the PGDipEd course, rated
outstanding by Ofsted, at the University of Birmingham (S5/8), while both
the book and the report are used on the TEYL MA module at the University
of Warwick (S5/9).
Sources to corroborate the impact
We have corroborative feedback from the following sources:
- BC website evidence of sharing report
- TESOL-Italy, Executive Committee member and Ex-president.
- British Council, Lebanon, English Project Manager.
- Report on Lebanese TV http://mtv.com.lb/Family/Joann_Deeb
- Guardian article and comments:
- BC website evidence of sharing activities book
- British Council, Bucharest, English Lead.
- University of Birmingham, PGDipEd course leader secondary English
- University of Warwick, Centre for Applied Linguistics, Associate
- ELT Journal announcement.